Mis à jour : 18 févr. 2018
Listen to Death ray boogie: https://youtu.be/bpiNL8pLHms
The blues form:
This boogie uses 13 times the chords changes of the blues in its traditional form. The main tone here is C (do) major. Traditional major blues only uses dominant chords, or Major sixth chords, built on the first, fourth and fifth degree of a “major” scale.
The chords changes of the blues last 12 measures, which can be divided in 3 phrases of 4 measures. During the first 4 measures, it uses the first degree of the main tone. During the second phrase, we find the fourth degree and then the first again. The last four measures use the fifth, the fourth and then come back to the first degree.
Death ray boogie:
What is amazing in this boogie is to see how Pete Johnson manages to create variety by developing his first phrase within the blues form, while keeping a main thread throughout it.
About the introduction:
Notice that the introduction (from measure 1 to 4) is mainly built on the I7 chord (here C7 and its substitutes B7, Gb7) as it is the case in the four first measures of the blues. But the introduction is also included into the 12 first measures. In fact, Pete Johnson gives to the first part of the blues form a dominant role of the fourth degree (F7, fa7) of the C major scale, which appears in the fifth measure of the blues. He uses the usual first measures of the blues as an introduction. That can be surprising because we could have expected a V7 chord for the introduction (a G7, sol7 chord) so as to bring the I7 chord C7 (do7).
What should be underlined about this introduction are also the choices of the different dominant chords. If we look at the bass, it follows a stepwise motion around the note F (G, F, E and then Gb), while the right hand repeats the note C. The first measure starts with a CM chord, the second measure can be understood as a dominant of CM (G7 b13 without the G or B7#11 with the bass F). In measure 3, notice the chromatic downward motion between the major thirds in the intermediate voice of the left hand. In the fourth measure, after a silence, there is a Gb7/9/#11 dominant chord which resolves on the eagerly awaited FM7/9 chord (without F, fa) just before the boogie bass begins on the F chord in measure 5.
At last, what makes this introduction so interesting is that the listener can’t be sure at once of the main tone. Moreover, the arrangement with the three inverted dominant chords, the choice of a treble register, the C pedal note on the right hand over stepwise motions on the left hand, and the choice of rhythm contributes to create suspense. This is how the boogie begins at the second phrase of the blues form.
Measures 5 to 12:
Here is the main “melody” or solo of this boogie. As it is often the case in most of tonal music pieces, this solo is built around the tonic and the dominant notes (C, do and G, sol). Indeed, the melody begins by a G in measure 6. It resolves on a G-C fourth in measure 7. Moreover, in measure 8, there is a stepwise upward motion from C to G. The dominant note (G, sol) is used again in measure 9.
Approach notes, chromatic motion and harmonic intervals:
It is typical of this music. It makes part of all the processes and techniques used in it. For example, in measure 1 the right hand plays a Eb (mib) which is a chromatic approach of the D (ré). The boogie bass, which begins in measure 5, uses a sharp “ninth” to bring the third of the chord. At the end of measure 6, the right hand plays a D# (ré) to approach the third of CM, E (mi) in measure 7. In measure 8, the right hand uses chromatic motion between the ninth and the third of CM (D, D#, E). This motion is used again in measure 9 on the G7 chord, at the beginning of measure 10 on the F7 chord (G, G#, A), and in measure 11 and 12 on the CM chord.
Pete Johnson also used some harmonic intervals in the melody (thirds, fourths and sixths). Notice that in most cases, he uses harmonic intervals when the melody is on the root of the current chord (measure 7, 9, 11 and 12) to avoid harmonic poverty. Harmonic intervals can also be a way to underline a part the melody, or to create a second one (in measure 10 and 11 between Eb, D and C for example). Third are especially used when melody follows a stepwise motion.
Measure 13 to 24:
Notice that the fourth G-C is used as a rhythmic pedal over the chord changes. This process differs from an eighth note solo. Measure 14, A (la) and F# (fa#) are approach notes of G. Measure 18, we can be surprised of the natural E instead of Eb (mib). But as it is the third time that the pattern is repeated, and as this natural E is not the real melody but the third which accompany G (sol), it sounds good. From measure 22 to 24, there is the repetition of the end of the main pattern of the first solo (measure 10 to 12). Notice that those measures 10 to 12 will be repeated at the end of most solos, which gives structure and unity to the music.
Measures 25 to 32:
Here is another rhythmic pedal on the fourth G-C (sol-do, tonic and dominant). We can underline that this time it is in a lower register than in measure 13. Moreover, this fourth is played on the time whereas in measure 13 it is played out of time. What could be also interesting to point is that this fourth G-C is embellished by the neighbor tones A-D (la-ré) and F-Bb (fa-sib). This fourth F-Bb would sound bad if it wasn’t prepared by G-C, and if it didn’t come back to G-C, because of the minor ninth formed by the E (mi) in the bass line and the F (fa).
Measures 37 to 48:
Here is another important four measures melody. This one will be used again later, with some changes, from measures 133 to 136. Notice that this part is in a relative high register.
Measure 49 to 60:
A harmonic and rhythmic minor second, between the D and the Eb (ré-mib), is used, which brings variety. Notice that in measure 52 the double chromatic approach of the third of C7 is used again (just like in measure 8).
Measure 61 to 72:
To bring variety, here is a two measure “melody” of block chords with more long rhythm. These block chords harmonize a downward stepwise motion from E (mi) to C (do). In measure 62, the last chord is CM6, brought by a diminished B°7 chord (a dominant chord). In measure 61, the F#°7 is a diminished approach chord of B°7, and the first chord is CM6. We can also notice that this part is in a relative low register.
Measure 73 to 84:
What is interesting here is that Pete Johnson uses a ternary rhythm for the right hand while the left hand continues on its binary bass rhythm. This rhythmic pattern is based on thirds and last two measures. It is played three times, but in measure 79 and 80, only the end of the pattern is repeated. As a result, a feeling of speeding up is emerging from the music.
It comes from measures 6 and 7. Notice that this time the minor second between D and Eb (ré and mib) is used as an “embellishment”, whereas in measure 49 it is used as a harmonic interval.
The fourth G-C is used again as a rhythmic pedal over the chords changes.
It comes from measures 37 to 40.
It comes from measures 13 and 14.
The last two measures:
Notice that the left hand stop playing eight notes, and that the F# (fa#) brings the second inversion of the CM chord, which has a dominant role, so as to finish the boogie.